A Fruitful Day

Yesterday, I had one of my very few days off, so I decided to spend it in the company of good friends in Sycamore. Of course, Boston Market called me and said, “We really need you to come in! We’re desperate for your help!” but I said, “Eff that ess! This is my day OFF!” After hanging up, Joshua and I set out to continue our respective Pulitzer searches; at the start of the day, I was only about halfway through my collection. An entire day off of work gave us ample time to commit to the hunt.

Our first stop was at Classic Books in DeKalb—a used bookstore inside of a small garage in the parking lot of DeKalb’s Sears Roebuck house. At least I think it’s one of the Sears Roebuck Modern Homes. This shop’s proprieter, one Mr. Sigwart, is an older gentleman with three fingers on one hand, a hook on the other and I believe only one eye. Physical appearances aside, the man is apparently an absolute genius—the man has several doctorate’s, master’s and bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering, biology, chemistry and mathematics. Furthermore, as it turns out, he prides himself on being a sort of economic guru. I’ve chatted with him a couple times before and he never fails to mention his stock market savvy. He also never fails to mention that his daughter is a marine biologist, living in Dublin.

Can you imagine a more interesting man than this?

It was at his shop that I found a first edition of Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent, MacKinlay Kantor’s Andersonville, and a couple other books that I couldn’t pass up (like Rabbit Redux and Rabbit, Run, by John Updike, and Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury).

Our second stop took us to a used bookstore in downtown Elgin simply called Elgin Books (which, I suppose, is a befitting enough name for the store). This store is owned by an older Greek woman—I’m guessing she’s in her late 50’s or early 60’s. Let me be entirely forthcoming now—I absolutely adore this woman. She reminds me of the grandmother or aunt that I always wished I had, but never did. She’s charming and polite and her thick Greek accent makes her about 90% more interesting than she probably actually is. She seems to be a freethinker, a connoisseur of the arts and literature, a liberal woman that is very conscious of the world that she finds herself in. She’s the type of woman that I would love nothing more than to just sit and chat with, over a couple cups of coffee. I would be fascinated by her recollections of her life as a young girl in Greece.

Elgin Books, over and over again, proves itself to be a fruitful visit. Yesterday was no exception. Immediately, I found A.B. Guthrie’s The Way West—a Western that’s been eluding me since I started this search. Also immediately, I found first editions of MacKinlay Kantor’s Andersonville (yes, the book that I had just found, not 30 minutes earlier), Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny (which I already owned an early edition of and which, coincidentally, I also found at Elgin Books) and an early edition James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific. I rounded out my initial search with Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’ The Yearling and an anthology of Louis Bromfield novels (curiously called A Bromfield Galaxy) that includes his Pulitzer-winning novel Early Autumn. So, ten minutes into my hunt at this store, I had already stumbled across and accumulated over $50’s worth of books.

Now, with Tales of the South Pacific, I was almost ready to throw the towel in. I have been to every Goodwill, Salvation Army and used bookstore in the greater Fox Valley region and I have found that Michener is an incredibly popular author; I have found several different titles of his at every single store I have visited thus far—Hawaii, Return to Paradise, The Bridge at Andau, Caravans—but I had yet to find Tales of the South Pacific anywhere. The same is still holding true for Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift and John Updike’s Rabbit Is Rich (I swear to Betsy, I am almost entirely convinced that I am not going to find that Updike book—I have found every other Updike book known to man and, yet, for whatever reason, I cannot find Rabbit Is Rich! The day I do find it, I am buying dinner for all of my friends, getting drunk and running through the streets naked). Finding this very early edition of Michener’s, though, gives me a bit of hope.

There was a tie, however, for the most impressive finds of the day.

Josh and I discovered a little corner of the store that we had never been in before and it was dominated by very old and rare books. On a whim, really, we decided it was worth a shot to just peruse it; if nothing else, we’d find some really interesting titles. That’s when Josh stumbled across a first edition of Laughing Boy, Oliver LaFarge. Not to be outdone, and excited by his find, I started looking through the shelves of books starting at the end and working my way backwards; I figured I’d be able to find something that he hadn’t even gotten to yet. On these shelves, organization was not goal 1. There were some books leaning up against other books, some were flushed on the shelves in a neat and orderly fashion, and some were just piled up and shoved to the back of the shelf behind other books. I really had to dig and burrow my way through to even see what the proprietor had in stock.

Joshua asked, “Hey, what are you looking for?” I replied, “Updike, my friend. Updike. I am committed to finding this damn book!” He scoffed at me and exclaimed, “Updike!? Are you crazy! You can find him anywhere! You should be looking for Booth Tarkington man!” So I considered his advice and thought “Well, I suppose this isn’t quite the place to be looking for Updike, considering the youngest book in this section is from the early 1930’s.” So I moved a shelf up, from “U” to “T,” ran my fingers along the spines of the volumes, reading the names, and pushing books aside to find the piles they were hiding in back. And it was in one of those piles that I found a first edition of Booth Tarkington’s 1922 Pulitzer-winning novel Alice Adams. Of course, the dust jacket is missing and the book isn’t in the greatest condition, so it’s probably next to worthless, but it was an impressive find nonetheless.

This morning, around 9 or so, Josh called to inform me that he had found my birthday present—a first edition of Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song—which he found at Northern Illinois University’s Founder’s Memorial Library.

This hunt is really starting to take form now.

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One thought on “A Fruitful Day

  1. I just found your blog, what a joy! I am also in the midst of a project to read all of the Pulitzer Prize winning fiction. I actually started some time ago, but allowed other things to get in the way for a while. I've picked up the project again and am happy to have found someone else working toward the same thing. I look forward to reading your posts.

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